Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Benny sighting....

Actually, make that two Benny Feilhaber 1sightings. After a month of inactivity, Benny not only made the team in Derby's last two EPL matches, but actually entered both games!

After a short 9 minute appearance against Newcastle on December 23, Benny came off the bench and played the entire second half in a 2-1 Boxing Day defeat to Liverpool. The available accounts of the Liverpool game offer little, if any, appraisal of Benny's performance. Nonetheless it is good to see him getting into some matches, and with Derby's current injury woes and the holiday fixture glut that is the EPL, Benny should get more playing time in the coming months, especially since it appears Derby's fate is all but sealed so they might as well figure out what they've got for next year.

Monday, December 10, 2007


'Twas a fine, fine weekend for a Bobby Convey, who appears to be nicely rounding back into form after last year's injury woes. And, mercy, what good timing for the national team, after DMB just went down with (what else?) a serious knee injury.

First, some good karma gets publicized as the public learns of the time Bobby regularly spends at the children's ward at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Then, Bobby starts in the left midfield (ah, the comfortable left!) against Liverpool, and has an absolute whale of a game. Reading went on to win 3-1. Bobby had one clear assist; and another one-touch pass that led to a PK. He was excellent on the left all day, and had his blistering rocket of a shot from about 20 yards in the first half been about a foot lower (and, thus right smack in the upper right corner), this would have been a career performance. Good for Bobby. And I'm breathing a little easier now regarding our left flank on the national team.

Monday, December 3, 2007

How the mighty have fallen

Okay, maybe Real Betis doesn't count among the ranks of the "mighty", but the Balompie Blog's favorite La Liga team has certainly taken a tumble from the lofty heights it reached as recently as the 2004/05 season

Sitting next-to-last in the league, having lost another coach and without any marquee players, Betis will have quite a struggle just to stay up for another year.

Slurpo-san thinks it all goes back to the ill-fated 2005/06 Champions League season. While Betis managed to knock off Chelsea in Sevilla (a game Slurpo-san and Scott-o attended!!), Betis never really had a chance to move past a loaded group that also included Liverpool. The strain of UCL football for a squad blessed with little depth proved too much as Betis slumped out of the group stage and struggled for the entire La Liga season. Other "small" clubs have suffered similar fates--recall Everton in the Champs League in 2005. That team didn't even make the group stage and then struggled to finish 11th in the EPL. Further evidence that UCL football can be both a blessing and a curse--yes, it brings additional revenue, but unless you have a large and capable squad, you run the risk of being stretched too thin and failing at both, rather than trying to succeed at one.

Here's hoping legendary Betis owner Lopera brings in a solid coach and opens his wallet in January to give the team an infusion of talent that will save them from the drop.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

England's loss is MLS' gain

By now everyone has heard of England's abysmal failure to qualify for Euro 2008. But lost in the shuffle is that while this is a terrible result for English players and the FA, MLS stands to benefit quite nicely.

Had England qualified, David Beckham would almost certainly have made the team unless he was hurt (and if he was hurt he would be useless to MLS anyway). A call-up for Euro 2008 would have deprived MLS of its biggest star for at least 6 weeks during the height of the MLS season.

But now, MLS, Alexei Lalas and Ruud Gullitt can breathe easy knowing their man will be around. Becks has already taken his show on the road to Australia and apparently the Galaxy sold 20,000 jerseys as a result.

So while I'm bummed that England won't be in the tournament, I'm glad that MLS will get a chance to build on this year's momentum, and who knows, maybe even steal a little of Europe's thunder next summer...

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Nelson Mandela Challenge champions!

Well, the nats got the victory in South Africa, and, considering the altitude and the youth in the lineup, that is the most important thing. Plus, I think we affirmatively learned some things from this game, and that is another good reason for playing friendlies. But, alas, the video from this game will certainly not be packaged and sold to fans as a banner moment from our nation’s efforts at the beautiful game.

The good:
-As stated before on Balompie, we love Cherundolo!
-The starting backline looked very solid, against some decent strikers. Even, I admit, Gooch. I think Pearce was even solid (though his weak points seem to be in getting forward and in playing the ball out of the back).
-I think Edu had a good game. Hard to believe this was his second cap. Great assist to boot.
-The homophonous Adu wasn’t great, but showed signs. And those signs are tantalizing. I say keep playing him.

The bad:
-Whither DMB?
-Oh, Benny, we hardly knew ye! Everyone say it together: Feilhaber is not now and looks never to be a viable option for right midfielder.

The ugly:
-Okay, against both Switzerland and South Africa, our midfield was broken. I mean that we had extreme difficulty in maintaining any meaningful possession. We have been able to put together good flashes of attacking soccer, but nothing sustained. This needs to be addressed. Without it, our forwards are stranded. Dempsey was adrift against South Africa. (And think back to the Switzerland game before Adu came in.) If you’re going to play Feilhaber, he has to be in the middle. But given his lack of any playing time at Derby County (which is confoundingly shocking at cellar-dwelling Derby — a separate issue), I don’t think he should be starting. Together, Edu and Bradley just don’t cut it as far as composure or possession is concerned. Maybe Rico Clark should be an option in the middle.

Other thoughts: Might it be time to bring Dempsey back into the midfield fold? Or, maybe give Landon another shot in the center? In what other ways might we produce a lineup with better linkage from back to front? With a healthy Ching, (or Kenny Cooper anyone?), I think I’d like to try Dempsey back at right MF, and Landon in the center. (Throw Adu or Jozy up top with the target man.) Beasley is a lock on the left. And then take your pick for another MF—Bradley, Edu, Mastreoni. I think that gives us a dynamic MF that might do a better job of holding the ball and building dangerous and diversified attacks. Thoughts?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Spanish lesson time! Today's topic: "la gran sensación de la Major Soccer League"

The gist: might Jozy be making the ultimate move soon?

p.s.--don't you just love "Major Soccer League"? Ah, we only wish it were true!

"Game" time! (ba-da-bing!)

I kill myself! Anyway, the picture is the MNT on safari in South Africa. I like the pith helmets. More pics available here.

So, on to the match. Scotto's predicted (though not preferred) starting 11:

Again, this is predicted, not preferred. But I think with our dearth of forwards you might see Adu start up top with Dempsey, and he’d be a little withdrawn, almost as a MF. I just don’t see Jozy getting the start in his first call up (unless he has been a beast in training). I do bet Deuce comes out at 60-70 to make way for Jozy, so he and Freddy can try and rekindle their under-20 magic.

As for the MF, I see Bradley continuing the ill-fated “Benny at right MF” test, and probably also gong with the Bradley-Edu pairing again. I could see Sacha maybe working in there as well instead of Benny. I’d normally say Bradley-Edu is overly defensive, but Bradley has been a beast getting forward in the Dutch league, so maybe not.

On D, I’d prefer to see Pearce or Spector on the left, but we all know that Bob has a man-crush on Bornstein, so it won’t happen. And, with the options in the center, no way Gooch doesn’t start. Sigh.

One big bonus to this lineup: possible announcer confusion with “Edu” and “Adu” both playing. Could be riotous, unless they wisen up and start calling Adu “Freddy.”

And, again, looking at this lineup, is Bradley scouting out our Olympic team for Nowak? Or is it just that we have so many promising youngsters available?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

USA v. South Africa

I know this weekend is the finals of the MLS Cup. But I'm more excited (as I always am) about the national team match, even though it's against an opponent I know practically nothing about.

Match details: Nov. 17 in Johannesburg. Kickoff for the "2007 Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup" is set for 4 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET), and the match will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel and Galavision. Sweet.

The MNT Blog that U.S. Soccer runs whenever the Nats play is actually pretty interesting this go round. (Good story of Adu running in to a Benfica supporter on an elevator.)
Yet, hands down, the best part of this weekends game? It could mark Jozy Altidore's senior national team debut!!! The time has finally come. Let Jozy's conquering of world football begin.
Player pool:
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Tim Howard (Everton, England)

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham, England), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover, Germany), Dan Califf (Aalborg, Denmark), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege, Belgium), Jonathan Spector (West Ham), Heath Pearce (wherever it is he plays, which I can't recall at the moment).

Midfielders: Freddy Adu (Benfica, Portugal), DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland), Michael Bradley (Heerenveen, Netherlands), Maurice Edu (Toronto), Benny Feilhaber (Derby, England), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (New York), Clint Dempsey (Fulham, England)
My guess on the starting 11 later in the week, but a decent chance Adu could get a start.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Many apologies from Slurpo-san, who is indeed a big loser for not doing more to keep the blog rolling. I just got back from crappy work-related travel, and leave again today for another few days. I'm sure there is some sort of irony in having to travel on Veteran's Day, a day that is supposed to honor those who served, rather than being able to relax and enjoy the day. but alas, I'm too tired to find the irony.

Anyway--I was going to put this in the comments, but realized I have enough to say to warrant a post.

1MLS playoffs--concur, its a crappy system, but consistent with what America seems to like. MLB, NHL and NBA all play extended regular seasons, but its all about the playoffs--and the same thing (crappy team winning it all) can happen in any of those sports--witness the '06 Cards who won 83 games in the MLB regular season, squeaked into the playoffs and peaked at the right time.

I much prefer the Euro system but it will be a struggle to get that system to generate excitement here. Witness NASCAR's recent change to a 10-race "postseason", or Golf's FEDEX cup. Both are designed to foster interest late in the season when it might otherwise wane because a particularly dominant player/team has a big lead. I certainly don't like the American obsession with do-or-die, winner take all playoffs--especially since they are frequently anti-climactic--but I do understand why its a tough sell in the States. That said, MLS could at least make it a two-legged playoff all the way through until the finals. Why are the semis a "one-off" contest?

2) I'm excited to see if MLS can keep up the momentum with more quality DPs this offseason. Blanco (the neckless wonder), Juan Pablo Angel, Toja and others really improved the quality of play and brought a heretofore lacking attacking flair. As much as I hope the Beckham effect continues, that will largely depend on whether England can miraculously pull out Euro 2008 qualification--if they make it, Becks is gone for at least 2 months midseason, but if not, he'll be here the whole year and the buzz will be fantastic.

3) Derby continues to get whacked (poor Eddie Lewis even racked up an own-goal this weekend) and Bennie can't get a game? if you can't play for the worst EPL team, then something is up. We all know he has the talent, so is it an attitude thing? undisclosed injury?? clash with the coaches???

4) I was not surprised to see Yallop leave, but very surprised to see Gullit hired. I thought Klinsmann would be THE perfect candidate for that job. And yet his name was barely mentioned. I can't help but think that he just flat out doesn't want to coach, and has made it very, very well known. That or every GM/owner has pictures of him and a donkey. Either way, as surprising as Klinsmann unemployment is, the fact that his name isn't even bandied about is a far bigger surprise

5) Watched the ManU-Blackburn game yesterday--while ManU should have added 1-2 more goals against the 10-men Rovers, a win is a win is a win. And how about that Cristiano Ronaldo? Is that kid any good???? Now that he's added top-shelf finishing to his bag of tricks, he's easily one of the 5 best in the world. If Nani can add some direct play and better decision-making to his guile and tricks and we could have a second coming of CR in a few years...
6) Minor League Soccer update--not quite enough for a separate post, but worth noting: I HATE watching soccer games played on fields with football markings. It looks so ridiculous and just highlights the fact that soccer is a 3rd or 4th tier sport, at best, in the US. Its hard to follow the game b/c the marking are confusing and its just bush league. At least New England, on the field they share w/ the Patriots, makes an effort to paint over the markings. But there were no such efforts for the Houston match, played at the UH football stadium. MLS needs soccer only parks!!!

all for now, off to crappy Jax again-


Friday, November 9, 2007

L.A. Galacticos, Weekend Preview, & some Poppies

So, it's offical. The Galaxy have named Ruud Gullit as the flashy successor to Frank Yallop. Will it prove to a good decision? And more specifically, will it prove to be a good decision from a soccer perspective (as opposed to the marketing side of the house)? Count me among the skeptical (and does Beckham strike anyone as someone to build a "total football" squad around?). I think familiarity with the league (and especially its shortcomings and quirks) is important to MLS coaching success. Ruud has no such familiarity. However, we can say with confidence that Gullit will wear that Hugo Boss team suit better than Yallop, and maybe that is what LA is going for. "LA Galaxy--the most ridiculously good-looking team in MLS."

In other MLS news, New England defeated Chicago last night to secure a spot in the MLS Cup final. Will it be Houston or Kansas City joining them? We'll find out Saturday. (And here's hoping it's Houston.)

Across the pond, on a weekend where everyone'll be sporting poppies for Remembrance Day, I'll be watching Fulham take on Liverpool in what promises to be a supremely entertaining game. If it plays to form for the Cottagers this year, Fulham will provide great, lively football only to give away the points at the end (either through a tie or defeat, it matters not).

Mighty big weekend for the big American goalkeepers. Timmy and Everton take on Chelsea, while Friedel looks to have another one of his stupefyingly great days against ManU.

Derby County play West Ham, but its on Sentanta, which I don't get, and Benny is probably, once again, not going to dress, so why watch another team beat the snot out of Derby?

Across the channel in Deutschland, Stuttgart take on FC Bayern. A few years back we would've been assured of a great match, but now probably more a question of how badly Bayern will beat 11th-place Stuttgart (though, in their defense, they've won two in a row). Either way, Ribbery is always worth watching, so this game gets TiVo'd

So, that's it for now. I'll close with "In Flanders Fields" (but let's not even start on the sorry state of Belgian football):

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Humday (Data)Dumpday

Been a while, but, alas, sometimes work interferes with fun (for both Scotto and Slurposan it seems).

Lots to potentially discuss, so we’ll do a bulleted list of topics and let the comments dictate which is the most interesting:

--MLS Playoffs: I wrote earlier that I was coming around to the playoff system. Well, no longer. Now I’m going to attach a few conditions to my endorsement. First, the importance of the MLS Cup should be downplayed or distinguished. I like the idea of an end of year tournament, but the prestige should be attached to the Supporters’ Shield. Why? Because injuries hampered the two best regular-season teams in the playoffs, namely D.C. and Chivas. D.C. was the best team over the course of the long season, and that, I think, is more of an accomplishment than hitting a hot-streak or staying healthy through a three-week playoff tournament. That said, the end of the year tournament can still be held and can still be celebrated (it would be a great double).

--DC going out to Chicago: I attended the game in D.C., and the teams put on a thoroughly entertaining match. The play was generally sloppy but the intensity was high. Chicago took advantage of D.C. defensive lapses, and their victory cannot be said to be unjust. The furious D.C. rally in the second half was a blast to witness, but ultimately came up a hand-ball short (it was the right call). I think had D.C. gained control of the midfield earlier, this could have been a different match. (Or, had their defense not gone awol when it did).

--Houston sounded like the place to be for the second leg of the series with Dallas. Something like 30K showed up to watch this extra-time thriller. That’s what I’m talking about.

--Yallop leaves (resigned from? Fired from?) the Galaxy, and the Red Bulls can Bruce Arena. The first not surprising, the latter definitely surprising. Interesting stories surfacing from NY—like that Arena and Reyna’s relationship had soured early in the season. Anyway, the coaching search for both teams should be interesting to read about.

--Lots of rumblings about D.C. still trying to sign star Juan Sebastian Veron. I look for another couple of solid DP additions for next year, which could make for a great 2008 season.

--European notes: Dempsey scored again on a nice poacher’s goal in a clash with Reading (Bobby saw about 15 minutes of action). What an entertaining match, though. I have to give it to Fulham, they may not be winning many yet, but they make them fun to watch. Meanwhile, over at Derby County, neither Benny Feilhaber nor Eddie Lewis made the squad. Starting to look like Benny’s decision to leave Hamburg for Derby was a bad one. What’s strange is that I can’t find any explanation for why he isn’t getting any playing time. At this rate, he needs to be looking for an exit strategy. Other tidbits: In Champion League action, Adu’s Benfica side lost last night to Celtic (Freddy didn’t make it in), while Rangers and DMB take on mighty Barcelona today (who, incidentally, I saw over the weekend absolutely brutalize Real Betis—to borrow from Ray Hudson’s commentary, it was like Barca were playing against green and white cones on the practice field, rather than Real Betis players).

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Freddy Adu marca outra vez!

Babel Fish translation from Portugese: Freddy Adu scores again! You can continue to practice your Portugese AND watch his goal and other match highlights from this weekend's 2-1 Benfica victory over Maritimo here (and, incidentally, I love this new U.S. Soccer-run blog that tracks Amis abroad and has great video feeds that certain big-brother-operated filters have yet to block--knock on wood).
Scroll back to the homepage for the same blog and you can get updates on all the other yanks abroad. Note, yet again, that Benny Feilhaber was absent from the Derby County lineup when Derby County submitted meekly to a dominating Everton. I might have to put on the detective cap again. Things are not going well for Benny there, and I can't figure the reason. Considering that (in my opinion) he has not looked bad in his limited appearances, and that Derby is currently stinking up the league, I don't know why he can't crack the first team. Is he carrying an injury? Does Davies not like him? Is he a disaster in training? I think his national form has been decent, so who knows.
And looking ahead, does he stay next year when the Rams are once more duking it out in the Football League Championship? Heck, he'd hopefully get plenty of playing time then. But I vote that he go over to Holland to hang with Michael Bradley.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ray Hudson's delirium celebrated...

In case you haven't come across this site yet, may I recommend spending a few minutes on a blog that currently has the U.S. Soccer blogosphere alight: Yes, it's a blog dedicated to the hyperbolic ramblings of soccer commentator Ray Hudson. I remember watching the Copa America this summer and figuring he was under the influence of a large dose of the fruit of the coca plant, but having since viewed many more matches on GolTV on which he has commented (commentated?), I now recognize that he is always like that.
A sample? How about Hudson on Riquelme, who has to be his favorite footballer in the world. During the telecast of Argentina's 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Chile last week, Hudson called Riquelme "the greatest footballer in the world," "one of the truly great poets of football," "an artist," "brilliant genius" and even a "big, beautiful strolling zombie." He concluded, "That man, who could have been, should have been a bullfighter, because he is a true matador footballer. The tango man."
Well said. No, wait! What in the wide world of sports is he talking about?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Minor League Soccer strikes again...

What an exciting time for MLS--the playoffs are set, the overall level of play is steadily improving and of course there is the Beckham effect which will be felt even though LA missed the playoffs. So tickets should flying out the door for playoff matches...right?

Apparently that's not the quite the case in Kansas City, where the team has had to resort to the type of promotion typically seen at a minor league baseball game than a big-time sporting event (props to Steve Goff who already put his spin on this one)

"Beginning at 5:30 p.m., vendors will set up inside Arrowhead Stadium with candy and other items for trick-or-treaters courtesy of M&I Bank. Children 12 and under wearing a Halloween costume will enter the match for free with the purchase of an adult ticket and be able to participate in the trick-or-treat festivities. Participants can pick up admission vouchers and trick-or-treat bags at tables located outside Wizards box offices. Children in costumes will also be able to take part in the human tunnel on the field during pregame."

I'm not sure what's worse--having to give away tickets to fill the seats at a playoff game (not even the Arizona D-backs stooped this low when their pitiful fans didn't come out to ballpark for the NLDS/NLCS), or the "human tunnel", which sounds like something from a horror movie, and reminds me of the infamous gauntlet of Tailhook fame.

The MLS Playoffs bracket is set. Let the office pools begin! Or not.

I have never really been a fan of the playoffs in MLS. My feelings regarding the playoff system resembled what I felt about the old MLS penalty shootout used to resolve ties. I didn't like it. It was different from the established European leagues that I follow. (Note: For the record, I also abhorred the old countdown-clock style with no injury time. And the “Tampa Bay Mutiny” as a team name. And, for that matter, the “Miami Fusion,” the “Dallas Burn” etc., etc.)

But, upon some contemplation, a tournament-style competition definitely has its up-sides, and is by no means alien to the world of soccer: we all love the World Cup, the Copa America, and the European Championships, not to mention the Champions’ League and the UEFA Cup. And, with my tickets in hand for D.C.’s first-round game against Chicago, I’m looking forward to a spirited and high-caliber competition. Let the playoffs begin!

I think my real beef with the MLS Playoffs is that too many teams get in. Perhaps this will be less of an issue in 5-10 years, after the planned league expansion. I only hope they do not also expand the playoffs.

Moreover, with the awarding of the Supporters’ Shield to the best regular-season team, there is still some prestige to owning the best record (and I think winning the Shield should be touted more by the league and the media).

So, at the end of the day, the league’s system is growing on me, and I think it has the potential to be a winning format.

This year’s matchups:

Eastern Conference Semifinals:
D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire
New England Revolution vs. NY Red Bulls

Western Conference Semifinals:
Chivas USA v. KC Wizards (née “The Wiz”*)
Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas (née “The Burn”*)

My predictions later this week...

* Sometimes seems like the old MLS teams were named after medical symptoms. Especially when the Burn matched up with the Wiz—a concerning pairing that cried out for antibiotics.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Youth is served!

Scotto's Match analysis:
Our starting lineup (and ratings):
GK: Hahnemann (6)
Defense: Cherundolo (6), Boca (7), Gooch (5), and Eddie Lewis (5)
MF: Feilhaber on right (5), Edu (5) and Bradley (6) in the middle, and DMB (5) on the left.
F: Twellman (4) and Deuce (5).

Pearce (for Beasley): (5)
Guzan (for Hahnemann): 5
Califf (for Gooch): 4
Szetela (for Lewis): 5
Adu (for Twellman): 6
Findley (for Demspey): NR

Comments on the starting lineup:
-props for getting Edu in, but it clearly showed that he and Bradley had not previously played together. In fact, our midfield was not a very cohesive unit. Feilhaber started on the right, but was consistently more effective when he was able to work his way into the middle of the park. In their defense, they improved as the match wore on. Edu looked promising, and Bradley ultimately made his mark on both ends of the field with a goal, and some excellent covers in the back.

-The strategy to have an attacking left, with Lewis and DMB, never materialized. The Swiss owned that flank until Pearce came in. Eddie just seemed too out of practice on defense. Positioning was bad, and, rather than taking the game to them, we were exposed. DMB went out early with an ankle knock, but an early sub for a real left back should have happened anyway. Ideally, Lewis would have made way for Pearce, but this worked as well. Lewis was much better in the MF, and Pearce shored up the back.

-the rest of the d played very well. Gooch even effectively shut down the massive Streller, but was well on his way to being thrown out of this match had he not been subbed out at the half. That’s what bugs me about him. He STILL needs to learn to keep his cool better. His reputation has got to be putrid among the refs. He’ll give an elbow here and there, and then he’ll try to draw a yellow by wilting at the slightest contact by the opposing forward. I say he’s still a liability until he learns to control his emotions. So, same ol’, same ol’. Califf was not nearly as solid, but he didn’t have the hot head either. Boca played superbly (almost had a goal to boot), as did Cherundolo. And Dolo was pretty effective when getting into the attack too. I’m sorry, but anyone who doesn’t think he has an absolute lock on right back needs to lay off the hookah pipe.

-Twellman and Deuce were duds together. There was little linkage between our MF and them, so maybe the fault of the MF as well. But the game was crying out for a change up top for us. Probably should’ve happened fifteen minutes earlier. And once Adu came in, the attack seemed to brighten.

-The field was complete crap, btw. No drainage, so it became immensely slick from the rain. Players were sliding all over the place, and couldn’t get any traction. We may have benefited more, though. One or two Swiss attempts misfired because of a slipping plant foot.

Some comments on the subs:
-Pearce didn’t add much to the attack, but our left ceased to be a wide-open avenue of attack for the Swiss once he came in.

-Great debut for Adu. He managed to get involved right away, and I swear his intro had a significant psychological effect on the Swiss. It was as if they believed the hype too. Anyway, Freddy started right up where he left off at the U-20 WC. Surprisingly, he even held his own physically. On his almost goal in the 88th, he did very well to hold off the Swiss defender and get his foot to the ball. Most auspicious. Even more impressive was the free kick he earned. With a towering defender on him as he prepared to receive a long ball, he let the ball fall over his head and used a nifty leg up behind his back to knock the ball down (who else tries this stuff, much less makes it work?) and then drove toward goal where he was chopped down outside the box. Add to that that he might even have earned a PK on one break away where he took a high cleat to the face, and, well, it was about as good a debut for Freddy as he could hope for. Now, let’s hope he builds on that!

-Glad that Szetela got in as well. He looked pretty comfortable, and his driving cross led to the goal.

In sum, a scrappy performance and a fair result against a quality (though slightly fatigued and less than full strength) Swiss side. Most importantly, the young players added spark and earned our goal. Something to grow on.

Man of the match: Bocanegra

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Balompie's In-Game Thoughts

Doing this in real time to see how my in-match predictions play out.

And we're off.
U.S. slow to get into the match, but by the 1/4 hour mark, have worked way into the game.
-We've slowed after the DMB knock (he got a bad cleat to his ankle, and was slow to get up).
-Switzerland attacking almost exclusively down the right. Eddie Lewis is not covering well at left back.
-Pearce coming in for DMB might be a blessing in disguise, with Eddie slotting up to MF.
-Feilhaber so far not showing up on the right in the first 35 min.
-Onyewu off to his usual cardable tricks. Will this be another send-off?
-Field conditions terrible. Will goal come on a slip?
-Could really use some sort of offense. Adu might actually be really useful here.
-42nd--nice pressure, but sloppy. By far our best chance.Great chance off the subsequent corner.

Onyewu on his way usual. One yellow down, one to go.
-Edu growing in presence as the first half progresses.

Much better last fifteen minutes of the first half.

2nd half:
Subs for US starting 2nd half:Guzan in as keeper. Cailiff for who? Gooch I hope. Thanks announcers.Great! Gooch out! Hip! Hip! Good move for foreign relations as he was about to have a throwdwon with Strellar, or whatever his name is.
-Lively start to the 2nd half for the US.
-50th--normally hate short corners, but that should've been a U.S. goal. Cailliff blew the open header.
-52--yellow card to Edu. Unfair. Certainly not card-worthy.
-53--leaky d by the U.S. Lucky that center went through untouched.
-54--saw Adu warming up along with two others. I say Twelman comes out at 60.

-58--Benny looking much better this half.
-59 nice poise by Edu. Definitely growing more comfortable as the match wears on. His first touch much better than our last generation of players
-61--so nice to have Cherundolo back! Easily our best one-on-one defender.

-65--Swiss looking alot more poised. We're lucky they didn't score on this break.
-69--I think we're looking a little wobbly now. Not stringing any passes together, Benny's disappeared again. Swiss looking the more likely to score.
-70--sure enough. Great chance for the Swiss. Another break for us.

Cailiff looks like he's 40.
76--Adu coming in! In for Twellman. Good move. We need a spark.
77--nice first touch by Freddy, wearing #25 by the way.

82--Goof-up by Guzan as he handles outside the box. Will it cost the U.S.?
Well, he makes up for the goof with a good save.

83--U.S. freekcik. Freddy taking the free kick? Well, first, Szetela coming in for Eddie Lewis. That should ensure Freddy takes the kick.
Not a bad cross. Looked like a hand ball to me by the Swiss defender! Will Swiss tv replay it?
Nice scrappy goal!
Nice, driving cross from Szetela! After a nice pass from Edu to switch fields. Scrappy ending, but nice build up.

Now, can they hold on for the victory?
88--Great body control by Freddy! Almost got himself a goal...after good possession by Deuce.

Into stoppage time...
Freddy again making his mark. Draws a nice foul. Let him take the kick!

Adu lines up, and...right to the keeper.

And game. Wow. Boo-birds out en force. Why? Rough crowd.

"I always say that one day I can play over [in the U.S.]. I would love to."

These are the words of the great Thierry Henry, as reported in today's NYTimes. More from the article:
“I think everybody knows I love America,” Henry said late last week in a telephone interview from Clairefontaine, France, where he was training with the national team for qualifying matches for the 2008 European Championship. The French earned a 6-0 victory over the Faroe Islands on Saturday, when Henry tied Michel Platini’s record with his 41st goal for France. They play today against Lithuania.
“I always say that one day I can play over there,” Henry said. “I would love to. But it’s still early. Don’t get me wrong, I just love the U.S. I don’t know why. I love the way you live. I love American sports. For me, it’s a dream to go to training and then see a game of football, basketball, whatever game. For me, New York is the best city in the world.”
Henry is far from anonymous in the United States. He was surrounded by fans last season at Madison Square Garden when he attended a game between the
Knicks and San Antonio, and watched his friend Tony Parker of the Spurs. (He was the best man at Parker’s wedding to the actress Eva Longoria in July.) Now a couple of companies are seeking to exploit Henry’s smart and balanced personality and introduce him to a wider American audience.
Henry is now appearing with
Roger Federer and Tiger Woods in advertisements for Gillette. Henry was unveiled Oct. 3 as a global ambassador for the Tommy Hilfiger Group. What is different, however, is that the proceeds from sales of a limited-edition apparel collection will be donated to Henry’s One 4 All Foundation. Henry also started the Stand Up Speak Up campaign to fight racism in soccer.
Was he surprised that he was recognized at the Garden last year?
“I would love to say yeah, yeah, yeah, I was recognized, it is great,” he said. “But what really surprised me was when I saw
Spike Lee wearing my Arsenal jersey. It blew me away, to be honest. I didn’t know he was into soccer, but I knew he was a Knicks fan.
“Yes, I do get recognized when I’m in the States sometimes, but it’s not like in Europe. In New York and in America, I can be myself, I have no eyes on me. It’s O.K. if I want to buy a slice of pizza, pay the man and sit on a bench. I can go to the cinema and watch a movie, and nobody knows who I am. You don’t know how great that it is.”
Okay, so I guess we can start the "Henry to MLS" watch. I say give him 2-3 more years at Barca before he is really interested. That will also prep the U.S. market for his arrival. His team? Sounds to me like it would be the Red Bulls.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Match Day Approacheth!

Set your recorders, gents, for tomorrow the U.S. MNT takes on mighty Switzerland at at St. Jakob Park in Basel (8:30pm local time; 2:30 pm EST). What do you need to know about Switzerland? Well, in Switzerland, they had brotherly love and 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.*

Our player options:
GOALKEEPERS (4): Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Marcus Hahnemann (Reading FC), Tally Hall (Esbjerg), Chris Seitz (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (7): Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham FC), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Dan Califf (Aalborg BK), Jay Demerit (Watford FC), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock), Steve Purdy (1860 Munich) MIDFIELDERS (7): Freddy Adu (SL Benfica), DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers), Michael Bradley (SC Heerenveen), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Derby County), Eddie Lewis (Derby County), Danny Szetela (Racing Santander)

FORWARDS (5): Clint Dempsey (Fulham FC), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution), Preston Zimmerman (Hamburger SV), Sal Zizzo (Hannover 96)

My guess at the probable lineup:

* though the screenplay for The Third Man was indeed written by Graham Greene, he noted, in an intro to a printed version I read several years ago, that this semi-famous line was actually authored by Orson Welles.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Very soon he will summon an army great enough to launch an assault upon Middle-Earth...

...or at least upon the NHL's attendance figures.

This dramatic intro for what? Why, an impresisve showing at the gates this weekend in MLS, of course. To wit:

-- 27,000 at Home Depot Center
-- 25,404 at RFK Stadium
-- 22,295 at Gillette Stadium
-- 20,083 at Giants Stadium

Hip! Hip!

And, if LA and Chicago make the playoffs, I think we'll see some outstanding attendance numbers--especially if Becks makes it back from injury.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A breath of fresh air...

Much has been made of Toronto FC's entry into MLS. Could MLS sustain expansion? Would TFC struggle in the same manner as other Canadian teams in US leagues have struggled due to the weakness of the Canadian dollar (that's not a quarter!!) and high taxes? Was the world ready for the collision of the hockey mullet and the euro-mullet?

Well, TFC has certainly struggled on the pitch this season, with a pair of mammoth goalless streaks. But support in the stands has remained strong, and I daresay that Toronto has THE best home crowd and stadium experience in MLS. Of course my opinions are based solely on what I've seen on TV and I've never attended an MLS match. But even on TV the constant chanting and singing (they even have team and player chants!) is clearly audible and the streamers a constant reminder of the crowd's involvement in the game.

Why does TFC have such a great atmosphere? is it the decidedly Euro-cosmpolitan feel fo the city, resulting from a heavy influx of Europeans? is it Canada's English roots? is it the excellent beer, which, to paraphrase a certain Adam Sandler move is "like moonshine"? Regardless, MLS needs more "soccer-specific" venues like Toronto's excellent park and crowds who are esqually nvolved and knowledgeable.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What Marion Barry and I have in common

Since sending an e-mail to D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty regarding my support for a stadium in D.C. for D.C. United (no response from the mayor's office, for the record), I've been paying attention to local discussions about the issue. A little bakstory first: The District is going to (or already has--not sure which) come into possession of land along the east side of the Anacostia River that was/is federal park land. The land is known as Poplar Point. There's nothing of note there currently.

D.C. United has put forward a plan to develop the land, the centerpiece of the plan being a 27,000-seat soccer stadium. The proposal also offers other retail, restaurant, corporate and residential spaces. The stadium plan actually looks pretty cool.

Well, it now appears convicted felon, former D.C. Mayor, and current Ward 8 Representative on the District Council Marion Barry has now entered the fray, and is strongly in favor of the D.C. United-led proposal. I'll admit that I too am in favor of the proposal. We're two peas in a pod, Barry and I. Seriously, though, Barry's endorsement is curious. Is there good ol' D.C. corruption afoot?


I was out of town this weekend, so have been slow to view the recorded matches from the weekend. Nevertheless, one of the biggest news items for American fans from the weekend surrounds the controversial Clint Dempsey elboy that cracked the cheekbone of England national team captain and Chelsea stalwart John Terry. Read about the match here. Looks like no action will be taken against Dempsey despite protests from Chelsea players that it was an intentional elbow. Glad the league backed Fulham. I concur. Anyway, lost in that confusion was the solid performance put in by Kasey Keller in shutting out Chelsea. That rocks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby*

Now, this has to be taken as a positive sign for MLS! I'm speaking of the appearance of Morrissey at the "Superclasico" between Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy a few weeks back. The best part of the story: despite the common Manchester ties that both he and Becks claim, Morrissey was evidently pulling for Chivas USA! Typical Morrissey-- ever the contrarian. Read all about it here. (Side query: will Chivas become the favorite side of asexuals around the globe? Clue: their low attendance suggests yes.) In keeping with the post's title, what must Becks do to earn Morrissey's fan allegiance? Enter your own Smiths's song-title-referenced answer here: ___________________.

In other news, before you start thinking that American winger Bobby Convey is heading "Nowhere Fast" (bit of a Smiths stretch there. My apologies), looks like his manager at Reading (Balompie Blog's favorite economic historian and EPL manager Steve Coppell) is going to try and work him back into the lineup in some capacity. Maybe, even as a right winger? That, dear reader, is news for anyone who has witnessed Bobby's complete lack of a right foot. Or has he been deceiving us? Does he really have a good right foot that he just ignores? (Maybe he's not "Half a Person" like some of us thought? Ugh. Sorry again.) Either way, should be interesting to watch. And good to see him fighting so hard for a spot. As Coppell rightly points out, Stephen Hunt has been a beast for Reading ever since Bobby went down last year, so pretty hard to sit him in order to give Convey his old slot back.
Yet, last night in Carling Cup action between Reading and Liverpool, Bobby made his case for inclusion in the regular starting 11 in some form, scoring one goal on a great volley from outside the box, and almost grabbing another. Reading succumbed 4-2 (Fernando Torres notched a hat trick), but the highlights I watched suggested a supremely entertaining match. Is Bobby on his way back? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools.

I viewed the Chelsea – ManU match last night, the first for Chelsea after the mid-week overthrow of Jose Mourinho. Before more comment on the management chaos, a few notes on the game:

1) Though perhaps difficult to accurately gauge given the early send off of Mikel, Chelsea seemed a little rudderless. This could also be partly due to the absence of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, I suppose, but, nevertheless, the side seemed off.

2) Re the Mikel send-off, in slow-motion, a yellow would have been appropriate; however, viewed at normal speed, the tackle looked pretty rough. I still say a bad decision. And, moreover, that bad decision led to a worse one in the second half. I’m referring to the terrible tackle by Joe Cole on Ronaldo in the 73rd minute. That should have been a straight-up red in my book. No doubt the result of pent-up frustration—Chelsea, after all, had little choice in this match but to bunker down and hope for a counter-attack goal, but, still, it was pretty nasty. I’m sure it drew only a yellow due to the earlier sending off.

3) Ashley Cole needs a good butt-kicking. What a whiny pansy. Thought for a minute that Rooney might administer that much-needed butt-kicking after Cole went down in a heap from a phantom foul by Rooney in the 2nd half. It’s one thing to draw a call through some timely dramatic embellishment. But Cole then sits on the turf crying to the ref while flailing his arms. And he did it repeatedly. Ugh. I would’ve carded Cole, not Rooney.

4) The penalty awarded to Saha’s was another terrible call. I would’ve carded Louis.

5) ManU controlled the match, were not seriously threatened, but they are not exactly clicking offensively. I guess it doesn’t matter too much when you have Vidic in the back playing so well. Same for Wes Brown—impressive showings.

6) Michael Carrick was clearly my man of the match. Great vision and superb passing all game long. A masterful performance.

7) Avram Grant: long-lost member of the Adam’s Family? I have no doubt that his appearance terrifies little children.

Enough with the game. Now, I must pass along this must read from the Observer. A revealing article that makes me feel bad for (1) Jose Mourinho, and (2) Chelsea fans. If accurate, getting out of there was a wise move by Jose. Talk about being under-appreciated and micro-managed. Way too many egos in the front-office, and, rather stupefyingly, no faith in Mourinho. And that vignette about Abramovich lecturing Essien on how to play the midfield? Ludicrous. Abramovich might be worse than Jerry Jones; he might be... Daniel Snyder.

And, has anyone else noticed that Mourinho seemed to be right about John Terry? England fans should be a little worried about their national team captain possibly being immune to criticism. Maybe it could have been handled better by Jose, but I don’t recall Mourinho complaining to the press about Terry’s play. It seemed like it was a private concern that was just leaked.

Contrast life at Chelsea with the all-is-hunky-dory situation over at Arsenal: stable management situation where management trusts the manager’s decisions (which, btw, are repeatedly vindicated).

And recall the comments of Steve Coppell highlighted here a few weeks back:

"We’re coming to an age of the new owners, the new breed, who are not going to buy a club and say: ‘I bought it for £200 million, you look after it’. They’re all going to be: ‘I want to put my pound of flesh in there’.
“I’m old school, I suppose, but I want someone to say to me: ‘I made my fortune in electronics, you know about football. I’ll look after the business, you take care of the football, and we’ll both get on with it’. That’s my environment to work in.”
It is why Coppell signed a two-year contract extension last season instead of his usual 12-month deal. “I know the chairman is not going to s*** on me,” he said. “If I do the job crap, I get the sack, I understand that. But, on a whim, he isn’t going to come in one day and say: ‘I didn’t like what you said in the papers, you’re gone’.”

And, Coppell got tiny Reading to the EPL, and, despite early struggles, here’s betting they stay there at the end of this year.

(And what if Tottenham’s management left Martin Jol alone for a while?)

The lesson is clear: owners have to work hard to find a manager that they trust. But then, to find success, they need to actually trust them to build and run the club. And if you’re not satisfied with the product, can the manager at the end of the season and find a new one. But this degree of mid-season meddling will just never work.

Slurpo-san, what says ye about the match and the club--from whatever part of the southeastern U.S. you are currently in?

One last coaching note. Timely Juergen Klinsmann appearance in the papers. I still say he ends up with the LA Galaxy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

What's with all the Sandhill Crane mating rituals?

Haven’t viewed the EPL wrap-up show, or finished watching all of the taped games, but I have viewed the Derby County-Arsenal match and the Fulham-Man City game. A few thoughts:

I got to see Feilhaber play about 40 minutes in Derby County’s Saturday “clash” with Arsenal. Derby didn’t put up much of a fight and meekly succumbed to the Gunners by a final score of 5-0.

Benny didn’t do much, and looked every bit as out-paced and out-classed as the rest of his Derby compadres. I don’t know if it is fair to expect anything else at this point. He’s hasn’t had enough time to get in sync with the team and it showed. He seemed pretty aimless at first (it actually reminded me of Landon Donovan's sleepwalking performance with Bayer Leverkusen in the Champion’s League against Liverpool in, when was it, 2005? Egad, I shudder from the flashbacks!). Also, on Cesc Fabregas’s rocket-shot goal (Arsenal’s 4th of the day), it looked like Benny was playing some pretty soft defense. All should know that Cesc is scoring form distance of late, so maybe not a terrible idea to try and get in front of him as he prepared to tee up for another go. Benny looked ultra casual and barely lifted his leg in defense as Cesc took aim. Sigh.


Fulham has been playing in some entertaining games lately. This week 3-3 draw with Man City was a roller coaster of a match, and, frankly, Fulham looked pretty dangerous throughout. Dempsey came back down to earth a bit with this performance, but it was still a hard-working effort. And on Fulham’s first, he was poised to claim the cross for himself if teammate Simon Davies had somehow missed it. At the least, he did not do anything that should warrant his removal from the starting 11. As a bonus, he got this biographical sketch in the Times.

Deuce also demonstrated his competitive fire, at one point going forehead to forehead with Man City (and England national team) defender Micah Richards. Richards took issue with a Dempsey elbow that landed mid-chest during a leap for a header. Deuce didn’t back down from Micah’s protestations and that wonderfully-strange, macho-man-dance you see with increasing frequency in football ensued. You know, the one where the two players lean on each other’s foreheads while bickering back and forth, sometimes slowly circling while yelling. It’s not entirely different from the mating ritual of the sandhill crane, sketched above. (American viewers witnessed a variation of this ritual when Jesse Marsch of Chivas USA “danced” with David Beckham a month or so back after Marsch kicked Becks in the wrist.) But good to see a USMNT standing his ground. Heck, maybe one day we’ll even get a friendly with England.

Back in the saddle again...

I wish I could say that I'm back for good, but its only a matter of time before my travels take me to more of America's least favorite backwater towns (this means you Jax, Mayport, Opelika, etc...)

in the meantime, I'm working on something tasty for your consumption and hope to pull it all together soon. until then, I remain your humble Slurpo-san

Friday, September 21, 2007

Manly sports photos!

Two photos to share before a great weekend of footy:

First, a pic of Alecko Eskandarian saying hello to one of his former teammates at DC United last week. I guess they were pretty close as that right hand seems to be up to the knuckles.

Second, thanks to Slurpo-san for forwarding this gem (below) from the Charleston Southern University vs. Citadel football game a few weeks back. A good picture of a brutal friendly-fire incident. But it is textbook "helmut on balls" tackling.

On that note, enjoy the weekend, and be sure to catch Jose Mourinho-less Chelsea as they take on ManU. Should be a real ball ringer.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Un Problema de Egos (el hombre especial se ha ido)

As all two or three (depending on the day) of Balompie Blog's readers are no doubt aware, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has either been fired or has quit. It's one of those surprising-even-though-it-shouldn't-be-surprising stories. I think the shock comes from the timing. Conventional wisdom would suggest that several weeks into the season (and after the start of the Champion's League) is not the ideal time to make a managerial change. Yet, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is a different sort, to say the least. Looks like he'll pursue his pal Guus Hiddink to replace Jose, while former Israel coach Avram Grant will temporarily take the helm. Whither Jose? Well, with Portugal manager Luiz Felipe Scolari banned for the remainder of Euro 2008 qualifying, looks like the answer will be to Portugal.

But, a strange affair all around. Betraying my sports allegiances, this ugly breakup brings to mind two American sports owners that resemble Abramovich and his personality conflict with his manager: (1) Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, particularly when Jimmie Johnson left after a clash of egos; and, (2) Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, particularly when Don Nelson decided to leave the team, largely due to personality clashes with the owner.

From the fans's perspective, is it better to have a deep-pocketed, yet hands-on manager, or one who stays in the background? The NFL's Dallas Cowboys have been mediocre at best post-Johnson (save for the year following Johnson's departure), and part of that has to be due to the constant meddling of the owner. And a decade on, he still hasn't learned his lesson: Note that Jones, after a week 1 victory over the NY Giants this year, decided to award the game ball to his new coach. Ever heard of owners deciding who gets awarded game balls? Mark Cuban has flirted with dooming his team, but has, to date, easily been a net positive influence on the Mavericks franchise. Recall that the Mavs were plumb awful prior to his arrival. Plus, he has had the good sense to retain and listen to his president of basketball operations, Donnie Nelson, Jr., an immensely sensible move that has certainly proven to be wise.

Given Abramovich's propensity for roster tampering, he strikes me as the Jerry Jones sort, which bodes poorly for Chelsea fans. They could recover and take the league title this year, but I suspect they won't. They've lost their identity after all. And while, with their talent, they might be able to quickly find a new one, or succeed even without one, I think the transition hiccup will put them too far behind. We'll see though...

--Break Break--

Another excellent MLS matchup for ESPN's "MLS Primetime [Editor's note: primetime for West Coast only] Thursday." This week, FC Dallas vs. the Chicago Fire, Fire! I'll get my first look live at both Blanco and Denilson, which is reason enough to watch. But, also, FC Dallas is generally entertaining, if defensively suspect. Now, let's just hope that the WNBA finishes on time and we get to watch the entire game.

Finally, good, if not especially insightful, Dempsey article from here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Jozy Altidore takes flight

Count Balompie Blog among the fans of NY Red Bull striker (and part-time NYTimes blogger) Jozy Altidore. The kid is as likeable as he is talented. In support, I recommend the Soccernet article on him out today. Good stuff. Tidbit I didn't know: Jozy's already 6'1" and is projected by doctors to hit 6'3". Oy.
And, okay, I'll try my best to be patient on his development, as, it seems from his blog, Jozy himself urges. But, gee willikers and gosh almighty, I sure hope he pans out. I do think that one more year in MLS with Angel and Arena would be beneficial for him. If he tears up the league next year, think of that transfer fee to MLS. Heck, it would give Becks more time to be awed (and to urge his mates at ManU or his chum Arsene Wenger to take a closer look).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Benny and Betis

First, Balompie Blog favorites Real Betis are celebrating 100 years of insanity! To kick off the festivities, David Meca, the world's best long distance swimmer and a huge Betis fan, swam 100km up the Guadalquivir River in a green and white striped wetsuit, finishing the 24-hour swim in downtown Sevilla. Beeeetis! Read about that and other zany goings-on here.

Also, Benny Feilhaber finally made his debut for Derby County last night in a surprise 1-0 victory over Newcastle. He only played the last 10 minutes, but the Derby County fan forums were nevertheless pleased with his lively showing. I didn't catch the match as it was shown on Setanta, which I do not have. Alas.

I was out of town this weekend, and have yet to watch all the games I made sure to record. So, perhaps more throughout the week.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


So, I was watching Euro 2008 qualifying last night, and, specifically, one of the all-time classic footy matchups, Netherlands vs Albania. All kidding aside, Albania took the game to the Dutch, and had, perhaps, the better of the opportunities. The Dutch controlled possession (with quick and accurate passing that would have had Jester drooling), but were having problems breaking down the compacted Albanian defense.

The score was deadlocked at zero as the game went into stoppage time. Enter Ruud with a stunning goal that you really need to view about twenty times in slow motion to appreciate.
I admit I’m a Ruud fan. I thought his exit from ManU two seasons ago unfortunate, and I’m sure the club’s fans feel the same so far this year (watching their games, you gotta think Ruud would have 3-4 goals already and they’d be sitting atop the table). He’s the ultimate poacher, which the goal yesterday firmly proves.

In stoppage time, Urby Emanuelson did very well to get free to send in a cross from the left. Ruud, spinning to his right, took it out of the air, volleying it at an impossible angle (no kidding, maybe the entry point of the goal was 270º from where his front was when he took the shot) back to the far corner. To get that absurd angle, he had to change the momentum of his body (which, recall, was going to his right) back to his left upon striking the ball. So, after the volley with his left foot, he spins back to the left. Goal. I don’t know if you’ll see a finer use of body control to score a goal. I’ll look for a clip of it later today (probably not up yet), but I encourage viewing it.

The Albanian fans were understandably stunned, and responded with much class: watch for a swift response from FIFA for the large and loud firecracker that exploded about a foot from the head of Dutch defender Mario Melchiot, who promptly crumpled to the ground. Good on the ref for calling the game immediately, despite there being a few minutes left of the announced injury time. Nuts.

UPDATE! Haven't viewed it yet, but this might be a good clip of the goal.

(break break)

Should be a good one tonight in the MLS, with the Galaxy and Chivas USA once again squaring off. It’s MLS Primetime too, which here means 11pm EST. Ah well, at least it’s primetime on the west coast.

Let’s hope ESPN doesn’t make the same “MLS—Minor League Soccer” mistake they made at the last “Superclasico” between these two teams. No, I’m not referring to having a WNBA game go to triple overtime and run way into the MLS coverage, though that too will hopefully be avoided. And no, I’m not referring to having one of the most-high-scoring college football games I can remember also run way long and into the MLS coverage as happened last week before the DC United-Chivas match, though THAT TOO will hopefully be avoided. (Anyone sensing a trend?) No, I hope ESPN will fix, when showing the game’s score during the halftime sports news rundown, the erroneous graphics of the teams that are playing. At the last “Superclasico,” when running down other sports scores in the studio at halftime, they had the MLS game’s score featured prominently on the screen. Only, rather than the Galaxy playing Chivas, as they actually were, the graphic had the Chicago Fire emblem rather than the Chivas emblem going up against the Galaxy. “CHI-cago” – “CHI-vas”—Okay, I can see how the mistake was made, but, still, kind of sad. (Sigh.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

How about a nice round of applause for the nats!

Another excellent sports weekend—the type that, if you’re not careful, can lead one to cease all contact with the world outside one’s living room. Good college football weekend with both Notre Dame and Michigan losing again. But, most enjoyably, what a surprisingly lively friendly between the US and Brazil!

My viewing was occasionally disrupted by my having to check on the beef daube simmering on the stove, so I think I will have to rewatch the game this week to double-check my impressions. Nevertheless, my (initial) impressions, in no particular order:

1. I loved the aggressive play of the US, and, really, why not in a friendly?

2. Looked to me like Gooch left his man wide open for Brazil’s second goal right after the half. If so, add that to the own goal, and not a good day for Onyewu. I’ll have to go back and review that goal, but sure seemed like Gooch had the responsibility for marking Lucio.

3. Those blunders aside, I think the back line played well. Pearce got stronger as the game wore on, and Boca and Cherundolo were superb. (Also not sure about the foul by Bocanegra that led to Ronaldinho’s set-piece goal—I’ll see if that is clearer upon a reviewing.) I like Spector, but it was nice having a natural left-back in the game.

4. Was it just me, or was the television production poor, even by usual ESPN standards? I don’t believe the announcers ever told us who Convey came in for; it took me a few minutes to deduce that Benny was the guy subbed out. Also, no replay of the iffy foul that led to Brazil’s third goal?! And little replay of the Wolff non-call?! Not a banner day for the ESPN crew.

5. Speaking of Wolff, I think his start tells us that Bradley has no allusions about Eddie Johnson’s potential on the national stage. I think EJ is worthy of a sub role, but was glad to see that he didn’t get another start to demonstrate his timidness. Was Wolff the right answer? No, but why not give him a shot. He did almost draw a penalty. (Aside: I think Bob will groom Jozy over the next year or two. Why? Quoth the coach: "If you look at the box score last week, he wasn't in the 18," said Bradley, alluding to a leg injury that has sidelined Altidore. "In so many of these situations, form, injury, schedule -- all these things get factored in."Certainly we're excited about what we see as a young player in the league. He has done well for himself. I think we've shown this year that we are constantly looking for the right moment to bring young guys into the national team." )

6. Leaving aside Bradley’s horrendously stupid tackle that led to the penalty, the starting midfield held their own better than I was expecting. Donovan and Beasley were great on the wings and looked like veteran leaders. They also made some great covering runs on D. Bradley was solid (save for that bone-headed tackle), and, considering his fitness, I thought Benny played okay. It was an auspicious showing all around.

7. Frankly, Bobby Convey looked bad in his sub role. Maybe it’s just rust, but his vision and decision-making were just not good. I think after this, he should have to re-earn his selection spot through his Reading play.

8. If you can't say anything about the ref that's nice, best not to talk at all, that' s my advice.

All for now. More after my reviewing! In the meantime, thoughts, ideas, rants or ravings?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Match Report: FC Dallas v Toronto FC

FC Dallas defeated Toronto 2-0 in front of an announced crowd of 15,000 on a muggy but mild Saturday night in Frisco, TX, thereby avenging a 4-0 loss to Toronto in their last meeting. Both Dallas goals came on penalty kicks after fouls on forwards Abe Thompson and Denilson, who both would otherwise have had one-on-one chances against the TFC keeper. The Brazilian newcomer converted the first kick for his first goal with Dallas, and Thompson returned the favor with the second goal.

All eyes of course were on Denilson at the start of the match; though he got significant time in their last match he was making his first start for Dallas. Playing in an attacking midfield position behind Thompson and fellow Brazilian Richardinho, he did not disappoint, showing excellent creativity in his passing as well as some dazzling ball-control ability.

Dallas played a very aggressive style in what appeared to be a 4-3-1-2 formation, though Alvarez at right-mid scarcely paid any attention to his defensive responsibilities. Dallas put consistent pressure on Toronto but will need more fine-tuning to adjust to injuries (starter Kenny Cooper is out with a broken leg), departures (offensive midfielder & prima donna Ramon Nunez was recently traded to Chivas), and two new players (the Brazilians). Carlos Ruiz, who had the night off, will likely be paired with Richardinho at forward, with Denilson in support. The offensive emphasis results in some exciting soccer and is perhaps the best way to compensate for a defense which was burned for 4 goals in FCD’s previous MLS game (vs DC United) and whose left side is a serious liability. It will need some attention for possible upgrades in the off-season.

On this night, Dallas’s best central defender, Clarence Goodson (having an all-star season), was out to recover from a concussion. Replacing him was Aaron Pitchkolan, who has played well of late but is vulnerable to speedy forwards. Alex Yi, the other starting center back on the season opener, is not yet fully recovered from a knee injury. In that spot was Adrian Serioux, a mid-season acquisition brought in with some fanfare to shore up the center of the defense and who has played, to the eyes of this observer anyway, like hell. Yes, that’s putting it harshly. Serioux may still be less than fully healthy (he had knee sugery before the season) and the dude gets absolutely amazing distance on his throw-ins. On the left side, hard-working but unfleet-of-foot David Wagenfuhr replaced the usual starter, Chris Gbandi, who was benched for his recent dreadful play, especially in the DC United game. On the right Dallas has a very solid player in Drew Moor, who is capable of making very fine crosses into the box when he comes forward on the attack.

Toronto had at least 3 good chances but did not show good finishing ability. Two of these opportunities resulted from hair-raising giveaways by Serioux & Wagenfuhr that set up quick counter-attacks, and a third came on a lofted through-ball to a forward who got behind Serioux for a 1-on-1 chance vs. Sala.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Send him to Derby County!

Rumors swirling that Becks is looking to be loaned out this winter to an EPL team.
Well..., okay, but Posh stays.

USA v. Brazil (Sah-ker v. Joga Bonito)

With the game two days away, I thought I'd offer my pre-game two cents.

First, watch the game Sunday on ESPN2 at 4pm EST/3pm CST!

Second, good video of the team eating at Fogo de Chão.

Third, my thoughts on the game:
  • Will we once again come out in our new 4-6-0 formation, featuring 6 midfielders? Almost. I think Eddie will start.
  • Look for the midfield to tire early, especially Benny if he gets the starting nod.
  • I think Dempsey will have a decent game. I'm just feeling this...
  • Hope Tim Howard hydrates properly ahead of the match.

Okay, my guess at the starting 11 (note: not my preferred lineup): 4-4-2:







That's how I think we'll come out. Preferred lineup ideas: I'd rather see the defence shaken up a bit. I'm a DeMerit fan, and would pair him with Boca (though really wish Conrad were here). I also would like to see Pearce get a shot to see what he can do on the left.

I am no EJ fan, but don't think we have much choice with these lineup options. Dempsey has been playing well at forward of late, so keep him there on this roster void of good forward options.

I also don't think we have much choice in the midfield. Need Donovan and Beasley in there (though Landon could swap with Deuce--not a good idea IMO since Clint is showing good form there) to have any chance. But either way, this Brazil lineup will eat up Bradley and Benny. And there are no other good options on the bench. I wish Ricardo Clark had been called in. Or a Ben Olsen. With Pablo out, there is no bite or composer. We'll get dominated here.

So, I don't know where we get our goal from. Brazil 2-0, despite Howard heroics.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Prime Time!! (for the West Coast only)

Two items of note to pass along this morning:

First, MLS Primetime is back tonight with what promises to be a very entertaining match between Chivas USA and DC United. Both teams are playing well at the moment, and both play an attractive style. The game is in CA, so will be aired a little late – 10:30 EST, after the two college football games on tap for tonight. The NFL also kicks off this evening, so lots of competition for MLS, and the ratings should reflect that. But, really, I’d recommend this game to someone trying to get an idea of what the league is all about. (Now watch them go lay an egg!) Cuban refugee Maykel Galindo (watch for future discussion about whether the US MNT can claim him) has been superb for Chivas, and could put on a show with his strike-partner Ante Razov. Same can be said for DC’s similar tandem of Jaime Moreno and
Luciano Emilio. I, for one (and hopefully not the only one), will be watching.

Second, say what you want about David Beckham, but it’s hard not to like the guy. Adding support to that idea was a very nice article on Sunday in the Observer Sport Monthly (sister paper of the Guardian). The writer, Tom Watt (ghost-writer for Becks’s autobiography) has some nice things to say about the quality of the play in the MLS. He watched (with Beckham) LA beat Pachuca in the earlier rounds of the Super Liga. Too bad he didn’t see the Super Liga final. Becks on MLS: “The standard is nowhere near as low as people have been saying it is. For a start, you have to be incredibly fit and physically strong to play here: America's a country, after all, that produces some of the best athletes in the world.”

But the best part of the article is Beckham discussing his experiences at the Dallas Cup while a youth player for Essex. Worth the read, and see if you don’t like this guy a little more after reading it. If you don’t, well, I’ll buy you a beer and we can discuss.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Who is the man and why should you care?

Thought I’d post two things I read over at Soccernet.

1) Great article by Kristian Dyer about the meager developmental player contracts offered by MLS. I think the base pay in MLS needs to be raised, and that goes double for the developmental players, as depth is clearly lacking throughout the league. The problem, of course, is how to fund those pay increases. I don’t have enough knowledge of league finances to intelligently discuss the issue, but results like that discussed in Dyer’s article (where a collegiate star, in this case, former SMU-standout Jay Needham, pictured above, signs with the USL rather than the MLS as a developmental player) cannot be a good sign for the league. Plus, I think the DC United veteran who approved of Needham’s decision to turn down the developmental player contract has to be Ben Olsen. Any other guesses?

2) Interesting comments from Alex Ferguson about Beckham’s efforts to sell soccer in America. Humorously, he offers this about managing Beckham: “He was never a problem until he got married. He was a fantastic young lad. Getting married into that entertainment scene was a difficult thing -- from that moment his life was never going to be the same.”
All together: “Love and marriage, love and marriage, it’s an institute Alex’ll disparage…”
But, of pertinence to this post, note his comments about growing soccer in the U.S. To quote at length:
“In European soccer, and especially in British soccer, you can travel easily,'' Ferguson said. "If you are in Boston and need to go to Los Angeles, it's a six-hour flight. Supporters don't travel, so you are missing that rivalry between fans.
"To make it substantial you would have to go regional, but there's not enough teams to have four strong leagues.''
Ferguson said Major League Soccer is undermined by young American players leaving for European leagues early in their careers.
"What you have got in the States is that a lot of kids are playing football in the States and there is nowhere to go,'' he said. "The best American players go to Europe very early, like Brad Friedel [at Blackburn], [Brian] McBride and [Clint] Dempsey at Fulham. That situation doesn't help the American game.''

I think there is something to that distance thing, but several counters:
(1) NBA is kind of the same way, yet still works as a league (though admittedly without the fan rivalries of which he speaks)
(2) College Football manages to establish classic fan rivalries (granted most are in fact regional, but there are some exceptions)
(3) NFL: NFC East. No problem there with fan rivalries.
(4) Gotta start somewhere. Plus, there are some nascent regional rivalries in MLS.

Deuce loose in Chicago

The U.S. men's national team continues training in Chicago in preparation for this weekend's showdown with Brazil (dubbed the "Clash of the Champions" by USSF. Um, yeah. There's a scarf I'd want).

To get an idea of how the team occupies its time, I recommend the blog that U.S. Soccer keeps up during the training camps. We learn, for example, that Landon will be throwing out the first pitch at tonight's Cubs game and will spend some time in the booth with the ESPN announcers. Jon Milller will unfortunately not be in the booth--he used to do NASL games so is familiar with the sport. Wonder what Orel Hershiser will talk to Landon about. Let's hope he offers some tips on focus and mental strength.

Also, check out the article about Clint Dempsey in today's Chicago Tribune. He's got a good story, and hopefully he'll continue to take advantage of the playing time he is currently getting at Fulham. Thankfully, we also learn that he has no intentions of trying to make it as a legitimate rapper (despite his past dabblings).

Finally, it seems Benny Feilhaber's exclusion from the Derby County roster for last weekend's slaughter against Liverpool was due to a slight ankle injury he's carrying, which is supposedly improving. Said his gaffer:
“Benny had to report with the USA squad and a decision will be made from there. Playing against Brazil is a big game for anybody - he only wants to play so he can swap a shirt!”